Democratic Staffers Discuss 'Scaring Seniors' on Social Security

By Christine Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

( - "Talk about scaring seniors - this may be a little over the top," wrote a Democratic staffer regarding a planned editorial on Social Security privatization. "But it is sooo fun to bash Republicans," she added.

The e-mail message from Julie Little, the senior legislative aide to Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), also acknowledges that the op-ed as drafted was "not entirely factually accurate."

The e-mail exchange, which was apparently sent by mistake to a Republican staff member on Capitol Hill, caused a stir over at the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).

"We have said for months that national Democrats are engaged in a cynical and deceptive campaign to scare seniors on the issue of Social Security," said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who chairs the NRCC.

"After reviewing this document, there is absolutely no question that Democrats are knowingly and willingly using false and misleading information to scare seniors about ... Social Security," said Davis.

The planned op-ed blasts the Bush administration's 2003 budget, saying it will "raid the Social Security trust fund to the tune of $1 trillion dollars to pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest one percent of Americans and ... give new tax breaks to corporations."

The op-ed asserts that Social Security is a "rock-solid guarantee" that should not be replaced by "the uncertainties of the market and corporate gambling with other people's money."

"The administration has failed to learn the lessons from the Enron scandal," states the editorial, which also names General Electric and Chevron as big beneficiaries of the president's tax cut agenda.

The AARP, which counts 35 million senior citizens as members and is viewed by many as one of Washington's most influential voices on Social Security policy, declined to comment on the Democratic plan.

The NRCC compared the language used in the op-ed to actual rhetoric employed by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Calif.), and other prominent Democrats.

Kaptur's spokesperson did not return calls seeking comments, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee referred the issue to Kaptur's office.

However, Hans Reimer, senior policy advisor with Campaign for America's Future and an opponent of Social Security privatization, said the e-mail flap is overblown.

"I certainly thought that the cavalier attitude was probably not becoming of members of Congress and their staff," said Riemer. "But the NRCC certainly failed to identify anything that was factually incorrect about anything in the content of the memo.

"In fact, the only disagreement over any fact they seemed to present was whether the word privatization was accurate in referring to Republican Social Security plans, which is not a lot to hang your hat on," said Riemer.

"If I was trying to scare seniors," said Riemer, "I would use certain facts that are not even in [the draft op-ed]. There are elements of some of the plans floating around the Hill that would be scarier to seniors than anything mentioned in that draft. If they were trying to scare seniors, they sure could have done a lot better of a job."

Democrats, Riemer added, do not typically talk among themselves about strategies for "scaring seniors."

"Everyone understands that seniors have the most at stake in the debate about Social Security and that it's a vital issue to communicate to them," said Riemer. "Certainly Democrats and others say we need to move them, we need to educate them."

However, Andrew Biggs, a Social Security analyst at the Cato Institute, disagrees.

The Democrats are "getting on Republicans for raiding the [Social Security] trust fund, [but] the Senate budget would raid the trust fund, too," said Biggs.

As for the accusation of tax cut giveaways to the rich, Biggs says "that is not correct."

"If you look at why we have a deficit this year, it is a function of increased spending ... and reduction of tax revenues due to the recession and the tax cut," said Biggs. "But the part of the tax cut that kicked in this year ... was the tax rebate, which was a Democratic idea."

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